Eat, Pray, Love: Taiwan

I can't strikethrough titles, but it should really look like this:

Eat, Pray, Love: Taiwan

Did I visit an ashram? No. Do I think I need to find some inner peace? Not yet. Did I fall in love while having sex in a gazebo overlooking the waterfront of some exotic Southeast Asian country? No, but I wish I did.

Mini movie review time. I hated that movie. I would nutshell it like this: American woman finds perfect life meaningless so she decides to eat and fuck her way through foreign countries until her materialism and lust are satiated until the sequel. I want the 2 and a half hours of my life back. I can slit my wrists and listen to emo music in about 10 minutes, and spend the rest of the time doing something productive like lighting my farts on fire.

What I did do was eat. Because if there's anything I know it's Taiwanese food and the endless stories my parents told me about it. Like how what we were eating at Diho market near Chicago was nothing compared to what we could get in the night market in Shiling in northern Taipei.

They were right.

For those of you who aren't familiar, this is Stinky Tofu, one of my favorite dishes. Smells godawful and I pity the American household that decides to try to make this at home. Other than tofu and pickled cabbage I don't know what's in it, and I don't want to. I just enjoy the aroma and dig in. It is splendid. The rank crunchiness challenges the senses, much in the same way I believe people enjoy spicy foods. It burns, but it's so delicious!

It was a fascinating experience visiting my parents' motherland. Mother island. It's someplace I've never been to, but all of a sudden I felt like I belonged. The mandarin I grew up speaking

exclusively I might add, until I was 5. My English was horrible.

came out with no second thoughts, except for a cocked head when I came across words I had never heard before. The people looked the same as me, and the mannerisms vibrated with me on some fundamental level that I have not felt in either America or Japan. There was the grittiness of a country on the rise, still full of energy but firmly rooted in its culture.

The disparity between the rich and poor clearly showed, and while the Taipei 101 was a sight to behold, if one drives about an hour out the surroundings become really rural, really fast.

But what splendid rural lands they were! This was some of the best chicken I've ever had.

In fact, there was no need for labels saying that these were organic free roaming. They were running around right outside the restaurant. My aunt (who was the best tour guide) gestured to the live chickens and said that you could point to one and the kitchen would have it prepped and cooked for you. The meat was out of this world. Apparently it only goes through a quick boil and comes with a spicy dipping sauce. The flavor was spectacularly rich and the texture was wonderfully chewy and melty all at once.

Back in the city, the night markets were fantastic. The food was cheap, delicious, and even my delicate stomach could handle it! Ever since January, I've been on a salad for dinner diet. Nothing but leafy vegetables and tomatoes with some olives and almonds and vinegar for dressing. My appetizer would be a broccoli chicken breast salad, with a different kind of vinegar for dressing. All to lose weight for this trip. Totally worth it. More food! This time in the Ximen district where we stayed at.

This is honest to goodness o-ah-mi-sua. I'm so Taiwanese I don't even know how to pronounce it in mandarin :P. With real oysters and intestines! You should have seen the people serving it. It was a two man team, with one holding the bowl and the other ladling out the noodles from a giant pot, and the first person adding some condiments and giving it to the customers. My aunt says that from when they open till they close the pair don't stop, which isn't an exaggeration. The line extended far past the lens of the camera, and all the seats were taken so we all just ate standing up.

Taiwan reminds me of what I imagined Japan used to be to an extent. Japan has flourished and is considered a hub of business and is one of the most technologically advanced countries in the world, no doubt. But I believe the energy and life are in part restrained by the order, the cleanliness and formality of the culture. I am not complaining, because those are precisely the aspects of Japanese culture I love.

However, in Taiwan, driving is governed by rules that many seem to take as guidelines more than anything else. In fact, we witnessed an accident when someone with an SUV tried to park in a small spot and scraped another car with their bumper. In another area my aunt haggled in Taiwanese, and the shop owner finally acquiesced with some rather caustic final remarks along the lines of "Miss, you can look at all the shops here and tell me if you find a plate for as cheap as I'm giving it to you. My husband should never have quoted that price, we can't even make a profit!" she said in accented mandarin.

Finally, you may be wondering, and yes, I did do more than just stuff myself silly. In fact, I might have lost some weight. During the day we visited all the touristy spots and my feet were always exhausted by the end of the evening. Here's a picture to prove I didn't just eat!

There. I did go to some places. The picture doesn't do it justice. The memorial hall is gigantic, and is definitely worth seeing up close and live. Also there are motionless soldiers standing on either side of the entrance which are also interesting to look at. They have a very tedious yet tough job.

All in all, I love Taiwan. It is a wonderful place to visit, and is an accessible version of China to Westerners (like myself). In fact, I wouldn't mind working and living there. At this point, I can pass for Japanese to an extent (short conversations only), but I can certainly much more easily pass for Taiwanese with a lot less effort. It was pleasant, enjoying the lawlessness and spontaneity that comes with a country that's coming to grips with its position on the international stage. I look forward to seeing how it develops in the future.

I would write more but I just got really hungry so I'll stop here. The next entry will be a little more thought out, I promise.

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